Charting a Course for VBS 2020

Yes, VBS May Be Unique This Year—but also the Most Evangelistic Ever!

Many things stand out about VBS leaders, but one amazing skill is their ability to adapt and work with almost anything. Part of the giant stage decorations could fall down, but VBS leaders know that’s why someone invented duct tape. Others have had their impromptu stage debut when a skit leader couldn’t make it one night. And more people than we could ever count have found themselves doing a crazy activity they would never have imagined doing—and in the process, have made a memory that will last a lifetime.

The COVID-19 situation has been unique and possibly the most serious situation many of us have faced. But what has stood out is the number of VBS leaders who are facing it with the same spirit as they would any other challenge. The majority of VBS leaders still plan to hold their programs in some form this summer—and, as it has throughout its long history, VBS can go on and even thrive in these times.

Every ministry and every VBS is different. Through prayerful thought and planning with your church’s pastoral leadership and VBS team, you can develop an approach that will best reach children in your area for the Lord. While developing your plan, be sure to keep in mind CDC guidelines and local directives. It’s especially important for all of us to remember we can completely trust God—this summer is in His hands, and we can entrust the hearts and lives of children to Him!

Even more important than the buzz that VBS creates in a church is the eternal impact on students who accept Jesus as their Savior and give their lives to Him. This guide provides many ideas to start your VBS team charting a course to make Big Fish Bay one of your ministry’s most effective and evangelistic Vacation Bible Schools ever.

Exploring The Evangelistic VBS™

Big Fish Bay: Hooked on God's Mercy VBS 2020 LogoThis summer, VBS students everywhere will be going to Big Fish Bay—a place for adventure and sailing toward new horizons. What a perfect opportunity to emphasize what has long been a hallmark of RBP’s VBS. We are known as The Evangelistic VBS™ because of an effective approach to sharing the gospel: the gospel is integrated clearly so that students will grasp the main points and understand what they are doing when they accept the good news of Jesus.

What better time is there for evangelism than this summer, especially if VBS has to be taken to homes or at least done in a way that directly impacts the neighborhoods where people live? That’s an opportunity, not just an obstacle! For many ministries, VBS 2020 could be the most evangelistic VBS ever. Parents and families may be more involved than at any other time, and that can be a good thing. Without VBS this summer, or if it’s put off until next year, there’s no guarantee your church will have another chance with some of these families.

With a situation like the one this summer, what ways can VBS be done effectively?

Going to Big Fish Bay during the Prime Time of Summer

A VBS with Adjustable Dates or Late-Summer VBS

For many people, summer has a sweet spot. That time frame this year can be a bit of a moving target, so it’s good to plan VBS with some flexibility and several possible dates. This flexibility should have advantages if it becomes necessary to have VBS later in the summer. Not only could it give time for restrictions to lift, but it also places VBS during a prime time. Your VBS may hit the calendar this year when many kids and families are excited to get out. VBS could be a huge draw for them! And there’s a ready-made link with fall children’s programs at church, since they would begin soon after VBS.

Here are some ideas for how this might look.

  1. Consider building flexibility into the schedule. It’s best to plan for at least two possible dates so that if one is affected by COVID-19, VBS can be moved to the other date. It’s recommended that printed or written promotional materials omit any dates for VBS in order to allow this flexibility.
  2. The Fourth of July might be a great opportunity for advertising VBS, with or without a parade. There will probably be some kind of community celebration, online or otherwise, and your church may be able to participate in it.
  3. With online meeting platforms, you can plan for VBS with your team even now. But if your planning timeline does become condensed to much shorter than usual, it can still be done! People may even be more focused on preparing for VBS if it isn’t too far down the road.
  4. You could reassure parents that their children will be safe at Big Fish Bay by letting them know the precautions you’ve taken to ensure applicable health safety guidelines are followed.
  5. If the church calendar is packed in late summer, consider multitasking ministries. For example, why not combine the church picnic with the VBS celebration for even greater outreach?
  6. Another option if the schedule is packed is to condense VBS into three days, using the lessons from Dock 1, Dock 3, and Dock 5. Or cover Docks 1, 3, and 4, and save Dock 5 for a back-to-school kickoff.
  7. For an even tighter link to fall ministries and an exciting atmosphere, consider using VBS decorations in your children’s rooms for Sunday School or children’s church.

Children have had to endure many changes along with the rest of us. Wouldn’t Vacation Bible School be a wonderful highlight of the year for them to look forward to! Whatever calendar date or shape it has to take, VBS can still be a powerful ministry for leading children to Jesus and impacting them for eternity.

Bringing Big Fish Bay into the Home

At-Home VBS

Big Fish Bay is built on adventure. It reverberates with the excitement of both the ocean and discovering God’s mercy. This summer may bring an opportunity for both if an at-home VBS format is necessary!

This format is an excellent option to consider if guidelines indicate that people should remain mostly at home.

An at-home VBS may prove to be an exciting approach for engaging families, students, and churches  that nobody would have expected a short while ago. VBS—and the gospel—would be brought directly into homes in a unique and powerful way as the students’ homes are transformed into VBS. This is great for students who thrive on being able to do things at their own pace, and parents who don’t know the Lord will be engaged even more closely with the gospel. Plus, students may love the excitement of doing a new kind of VBS!

  1. The church would assemble a kit for each VBS family. Kits could include a craft for each child, game ideas that the family could do together, a packaged snack for each child, a student activity sheet for each child, and perhaps even a gift for each child from our catalog or webstore. You could either assemble a complete kit for the week or prepare a new one for each day.
  2. It’s important that families register their children in some way so a church can determine how to prepare kits with supplies. For remote registration, a church could use a website like, the telephone, and/or email.
  3. Be sure to include simple instructions in the kit as a guide for parents.
  4. Friendly VBS team members could deliver the kits to homes, or you could also set up a drive-through pickup at the church.
  5. The Resource CD is packed with resources that you could email to parents or print and include in the at-home kit.
  6. For Assembly Time, you could set up an area of the church with exciting Big Fish Bay decorations and cutouts, and then livestream the assembly time online at the set time. You can livestream “Big Fish Bay” and many of the songs from the Worship DVD, provided that you follow certain guidelines (see “Using Big Fish Bay Worship Videos” below). And in this format, students can still enjoy Assembly Time activities such as the Will Ketchit skits from the Director Guide. For the Oliver T. Otter puppet skits, only a large stage is needed. Any large object, such as a lighthouse decoration, is perfect for a puppeteer to get behind so that the puppet team isn’t crammed behind the traditional puppet stage.
  7. You could also livestream the teachers giving the lessons. Another option is to record teachers presenting the lessons, and then premiere them live or make them accessible on-demand to families through an online platform.
  8. The lessons also contain many activities and experiments that families would enjoy doing together at home. Before VBS, it’s a good idea to review the lessons and materials is you can offer suggestions for activities that families can do.
  9. Activities and contests can also be done online. Many children and parents are used to doing these kinds of activities and enjoy them very much.
  10. Classes could enjoy interaction through online meeting platforms, with appropriate cautions and parental consent.
  11. Classroom interaction could be combined with personal interaction with the teacher through online avenues and/or phone calls to give this modified VBS the personal approach that kids need.
  12. Sometime after VBS, if it is safe to do so, consider hosting a kickoff for the fall children’s programs with a large gathering of all students and families from VBS to celebrate what happened at Big Fish Bay.

Remote ministry isn’t a new idea—it has a long history full of great effectiveness for the gospel. This VBS could be just the exciting kind of adventure your Big Fish Bay ocean explorers are looking for! And an at-home format could bring the excitement of VBS and the good news of Jesus to families in a unique and direct way.

Taking Big Fish Bay into the Neighborhood

Small-Group VBS

Summer has always been a great time to get together with friends and family, out on the deck or in the backyard. Every place around a bay is unique and exciting! Why not combine the two concepts and have VBS in multiple locations around town? This VBS is held with smaller groups of children that meet in backyards, parks, or any appropriate location. If smaller groups may meet but guidelines still warn against a large-group setting, this could be the option for you.

  1. A big advantage is the connection with neighborhoods—people won’t miss the fact that VBS is going on.
  2. In this format, church members volunteer to host small groups of VBS children in their backyards, front yards, or anywhere there is enough space.
  3. Consider having yard signs printed with the Big Fish Bay logo that the hosts can display. Or in some neighborhoods, a mini-float could even roll down the street to let everyone know about VBS—perhaps a boat on a trailer with decorations such as the Big Fish Bay theme banner on the side!
  4. The leaders are the adults who are hosting the club plus at least one adult leader or teacher from the church. They would lead activities and all the fun, such as the skits from the Director Guide. These hosts would have to pass appropriate background checks and meet all church and government requirements for children’s workers.
  5. The local church would still oversee the small groups and distribute any needed Big Fish Bay materials.
  6. Consider having one age group at each home, such as primary at one home and middler at another.
  7. The Director Guide contains many great snack options for a small-group VBS, but if there is any concern about handling food, individually packaged snacks are another option.
  8. Before VBS, small-group leaders should review the Director Guide and the teacher book and search for options that will fit their group and any necessary requirements (e.g., games that involve minimal contact).
  9. The church can distribute decorations to several host homes for an exciting Big Fish Bay look—for example, Big Fish Bay Nautical Tablecloths for picnic tables. A set of jumbo posters could be distributed among several homes, and theme banners provide an eye-catching decoration on back-deck railings. Many gifts and awards for students can be found at
  10. For exciting Big Fish Bay singing, hosts can play the Worship DVD using a screen and DVD player.
  11. Another option is for a church to livestream Assembly Time (see “Bringing Big Fish Bay into the Home” above and “Using Big Fish Bay Worship Videos” below).
  12. The excitement of VBS can be stretched farther into the year. One way is to connect VBS to fall children’s programs by using Big Fish Bay decorations to give a fun themed look to Sunday School rooms.

A VBS that happens in a small-group setting can be powerful. The many opportunities for relationships to develop among students and leaders can have an eternal impact. Sometime after VBS, if it is safe to do so, you could also kick off the fall children’s programs with a large gathering of all students and families from VBS to celebrate what happened at Big Fish Bay.

Adapting Big Fish Bay to Your Setting

Flexibility in VBS Schedules

A look back at the history of VBS shows that the most set-in-stone rule for VBS formats is that nothing is set in stone. VBS programs have taken place over five weeks, three days, or one day, to name a few. And VBS has been held in just about every imaginable location. This VBS flexibility could be just what your ministry needs, especially if guidelines push the window for VBS to later in the summer or even to early fall.

Option 1: Consider using Big Fish Bay during the summer as a five-week children’s program on a weeknight or Sunday night after restrictions have lifted but before your Kids4Truth Clubs or other midweek programs begin in the fall.

Option 2: If group sizes still need to be limited when VBS happens but some people can gather, you might consider a three-day VBS with two groups and alternating days. From the registrations for VBS, choose two equal groups. Group 1 will attend VBS on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Group 2 will attend on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You could either have two lessons per day for two days and lesson 5 for the third day, or use only lessons 1, 3, and 5.

Option 3: A shorter format might fit your church’s schedule and allow VBS to be pushed past any restrictions. It could also allow for smaller group sizes, as the shorter VBS may allow for VBS to run more than once.

A weekend event, with lessons 1 and 2 on Friday, lessons 3 and 4 on Saturday, and lesson 5 on Sunday night. In this format, the rotations take place between the lessons on Friday and Saturday and after the lesson on Sunday night, and each would be shortened by about 5 minutes. Could a Labor Day Weekend event like this be a great fall kickoff for your children’s ministry?

A one-day event, with a modified lesson schedule to keep the time from becoming too long. Consider lessons 1 and 3 in the morning with activities in between, and lesson 5 in the afternoon.

Option 4: Another option for limiting group sizes is to offer two times for VBS with two groups of students. One time slot could be in the morning and one in the evening. Each group would be limited to as many students and workers as are allowed in the location by current guidelines. Rotations would be simplified, e.g., if the group is small enough, the whole group can rotate through games, crafts, and snacks together. There could also be two groups for rotations (younger students and older students).

With many of these options, a great advantage is that you can decorate in all-out fashion with exciting Big Fish Bay decorations. Any supplies like gifts or awards might even have more effect because students would receive more of them on fewer days. A shorter or modified time frame doesn’t have to mean less impact—in fact, there may be more intensity, and the results could be more memorable because of it!

Financing Your Voyage

Many churches have felt the impact of COVID-19 in the area of their budgets, which has at times trickled down to VBS. If that’s the case for your VBS program, there are still excellent options for financing VBS. If people know about a need, they may be willing to give above and beyond their tithe in order to reach children for the Lord through VBS. (Talk about a stimulus!) Posting lists of needed supplies and asking for donations are other ways of providing opportunities for people to serve the Lord through their resources. With your VBS team and church’s pastoral leadership, brainstorm ways for fundraising that will work in your context. God is well able to provide all that is needed!

Using Big Fish Bay Worship DVD Videos

Powerful music is one of the most exciting parts of VBS. And Big Fish Bay has exciting new worship videos that students can enjoy in many settings, even if VBS isn’t held in a physical church building. The songs will get them excited about VBS and draw their hearts toward Jesus and His love.

If the format of your VBS will require the videos to be used remotely, you may livestream all RBP-owned and public domain videos for the Big Fish Bay Worship DVD, provided the videos are accessible only during the livestream. No videos may be uploaded to any online platform. If you do wish to upload the livestream of an event like Assembly Time, we ask that you first remove the music videos.

These are the videos from the Worship DVD that you may livestream under this permission:

  • “Big Fish Bay”
  • “Let’s Go to the Bay”
  • “Plenty of Mercy and Grace (Slow to Anger)”
  • “Poor Jonah”
  • “Peace Like a River”
  • “Glory to His Name”
  • “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”
  • “The Best Place”

Please do not use the videos in any other way than what is described above, as they are licensed to our customers for church or personal use only.


What shape will Big Fish Bay take for your church this summer? The answer could be as exciting as the ocean setting of Big Fish Bay, and as personal as a stroll with friends along the boardwalk! Big Fish Bay can be unique to your church, and you can be confident that God has special and eternal plans for students who will be affected by VBS. Whether VBS this summer is bigger or smaller than you are used to, the results will be forever. Things may be different—but our loving and powerful God remains the same. We can commit all our plans to Him (Proverbs 16:3), knowing that He can do amazing things.

As the situation continues to develop, we’re all in this together. We at RBP are committed to the success of your VBS. You’ll find a great community of VBS leaders on Facebook who are glad to pray for you and share ideas. Children and families in your church will look forward to a one-of-a-kind VBS adventure this summer!

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About Joshua Mason

Joshua Mason is RBP’s creative manager for VBS. He holds an MDiv and has served as a children’s pastor and in other ministry roles. As a VBS director in local churches, he saw the impact VBS could have on not only children but also the entire church and its outreach to the community. Now he’s thrilled to be part of making sure churches have the tools they need as they reach children for Christ.
On a normal day you might catch Joshua flying a drone with his daughter in his free time. He also likes to read good books or articles, ride bikes with his family, and play basketball.
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